Gospel means good news. And as it was usually an edict of or command of an emperor, did not have particularly religious connotations.
Christ means anointed one in Hebrew.
Messiah, a person much desired, but also much to be feared. And again, would have many tasks that we would consider not even remotely religious.
“Son of God” is a bit ambiguous and could mean merely a good Israelite. But this ambiguity is removed in a few verses when, after Jesus’s baptism, the Father calls him his beloved son. An unprecedented statement of intimacy.
Like the first readers of St. Mark, we know how this ends. Jesus is executed, but rises again. Those who heard him live and in person did not know the conclusion. Mark will use the apostles to show us what these people thought and experienced throughout the gospel. He will always emphasize that they were mostly clueless and needed to have everything explained to them, and sometimes have the best dragged out of them. Think of Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes – but without the good manners.
But let us not laugh, for are we that different? We have been reading about Jesus’s first day for the last few weeks. We’ll continue it next week. At every eventJesus does something powerful and unexpected, but does not do what the people thought the real messiah, the real anointed one, would do. First, he brings in the apostle, the disciples, the first followers by, by calling to them. He does this by the power of his personality. But they are uncertain. Quite mistaken about what this power is.
The apostles may well have asked themselves, are we going to be rabbis or are we going to be generals? They assume that Jesus is a ruler. He does, after all, talk about his kingdom.
How will he rule? He then went to the synagogue and preached. We talk about good homilies and bad homilies, about the Jews, usually had a commentary read to them. Jesus preached. This was amazing. And they were astonished.
Now, the apostles by this time were no doubt wondering when the recruitment for whatever Jesus was going to do would begin.They would soon show that they really didn’t get it at all. But look who did. A man with an unclean spirit cried out that Jesus was the holy one of God. On reading, Mark always note who understands who Jesus is and who does not. The Devil does. And so we will see, relatively simple believers, foreigners, and today, women.
Today, Jesus and his disciples go to Simon and Andrew’s home. There, Jesus shows his power by curing Peter, his mother in law. Notice her reaction. She waited on them. She is the first person not possessed. Who Jesus was and wants. He wants service. He wants us to treat others as he treats us. Peter and Andrew were prosperous businessmen and assumed to be leaders in the Jesus movement. Yet this woman, perhaps hidden in the house and deprived of a full Jewish education, understands the true reality of Jesus. And he’s putting this at the beginning of the gospel for a reason: to read, to instruct us.
Indeed, Simon and the other apostles may have been a bit disappointed. Jesus, his words of command don’t seem to go far enough. Yes, he casts out demons and cures the sick.But this is small potatoes. They want a Christ – a messiah – to cast off, not a demon here and there, but the entire Roman occupation.There might not have been too much of a distinction here,as most Jews believe that the gods of Rome were demons and needed to be expelled with their army.
Look at what Jesus does: when the Sabbath is over, he does the same thing over again.Cure. Preach. Cast out demons, even telling the demons not to reveal how important he was – I imagine something of a disappointment to the apostles.
The next day, Jesus is up early and prays. The apostles follow him out of love, but also out of self interest. How did they take Jesus telling them that they would move be moving on to other towns and villages, but not to recruit an army, heavenly or otherwise. We’re not to build a great school, but to preach and cure and drive out demons in individuals. It’s unlikely that they would’ve been overly happy about this. But they followed. They were still powerfully attracted to Jesus.
There is much to admire here. They didn’t understand. They certainly did not have our perspective or that of Mark’s first readers. But they still followed.
We will see this time and again with the apostles. Jesus constantly disappoints them. He falls below what they wanted. Yet they still followed. After Jesus tells them that he will be martyred, James and John ask Jesus to place them at his right and his left in his kingdom. He has told them what will happen, and they still want to follow him. Their trust in him, how ever faulty, is still real and powerful.
We are asked throughout Mark to question our own faith, motivations, and strength. We know about the Cross. We have seen the last reel of the movie. But do we acknowledge our ignorance? They were uncomprehending for the most part.Even Mark is at pains to show us at the very end, after all the miracles, after all the teaching, after all the time with Jesus. But they are nonetheless faithful. Lessons to us all.
The kingdom will come, not by how much we know about Jesus, however impeccably, but by how much we know Jesus, no matter how imperfectly.